"I feel like, 'Oh my gosh! Is this the beauty pageant world again?' " she told reporters when PEOPLE asked about her shift from host to contestant. (She hosted Trump's Miss Universe Pageant in 1996 and 1997). "No, this is really digging in with the real stuff."
The couple had one daughter together, Tiffany Trump, 22, who is set to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in the spring and has spent some time on the campaign trail with her father. Maples said her daughter was shocked to hear about her casting.
"She was scared," she told reporters. "She goes 'You're really doing this?' She was very, very surprised because she knows how nervous I've been about it. … Now she's happy and now she is my biggest supporter. Oh my gosh. I want her right here right now!"
One person close to Maples on the red carpet was fellow contestant and Fox News senior correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who talked about a conversation he had with the candidate.
"I've spoken to Marla and with Donald," he told PEOPLE. "I haven’t gotten Donald's reaction to [DWTS] yet, but when I saw him after the South Carolina primary, we spoke, about a week ago. He was very confident, he was feeling that he had surprised a lot of people and that he had really tapped into a movement, and he's very easy to underestimate. I think he's gonna be the nominee and he may be the president."
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And while Maples didn’t comment on her former husband's campaign, her partner Tony Dovolani alluded to the businessman – and their upcoming election for best dancing partners.
"The cool thing is Dancing with the Stars is such an incredible show that it's an escape for everybody, which is an amazing thing," he told reporters. "The only thing that she thinks about is dancing. … However, we are on a campaign, we are looking for votes, we do want the Mirror Ball trophy, we want to make it all the way to the end. I think she would be an incredible trophy holder and she has a perfect place to place it."
Maples gave a succinct, yet emphatic response to her partner's comment: "Yes, we are!"
Season 22 of Dancing with the Stars premieres March 21 on ABC.